• 2001-10-11
"NATO is not for everybody," screamed one Russian-language newspaper in Riga after the Vilnius 10 summit meeting in Sofia this weekend.

Baltic leaders are foolish to imagine NATO enlargement will not be derailed by the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, wrote Bizness and Baltija on Oct. 8. The world is now under "battle orders" wrote the paper "Without Russia's agreement, the Balts have no hope of joining NATO."

The reason for such views is Russia's support for the United States' anti-terrorist actions, particularly its air strikes in Afghanistan. The wishful thinkers at Bizness and Baltija assume that such support may also "cost something" - possibly the Baltic states' membership in NATO.

Such a scenario would be welcomed by many in Russia, also in Latvia and perhaps Estonia. Russia's return to the world stage as a superpower, a state even the United States would have to take into account, is indeed one of President Putin's dreams, one he is trying to realize step by step.

But for the Baltic states there is no other option than to become a part of the Western security network.

If NATO membership was denied them, would the consequence be the immediate re-occupation of the Baltic states? No one now thinks Russian troops will enter the Baltics as they did in 1940. But it may be done more subtly at a time when undercover activity by Russia in the Baltic states is alive and well.

Latvia's and Estonia's elites argue there is no alternative to their own, sometimes underhand methods, warning that these countries could easily return to the level of other struggling former Soviet countries.

Efforts by Russian companies to obtain state enterprises being sold off by the Baltic states - sometimes an overt battle between East and West, sometimes one fought through Western intermediaries or off-shore companies - is another key battleground.

When they broke away from the Soviet Union 10 years ago, Baltic people were clearly choosing to live in a free, democratic society - a goal they are still seeking. To knock them off course so that they become satellites of a handicapped giant like Russia would be to ruin these aspirations.

In Warsaw earlier this year President George W. Bush said, "No more Munichs, no more Yaltas." Hopefully, he has not forgotten those words.